Dwayne Johnson’s Moana is an action story with an action hero, claims its directors

While Bollywood is still reeling over Shah Rukh Khan and Alia Bhatt’s cute chemistry in Dear Zindagi, Hollywood is going gaga over the latest animation flick, Moana. Featuring the voice of the one and only Dwayne The Rock Johnson, the movie has been getting some really great reviews and is a winner at the box office as well. Moana is scheduled to release in India this Friday.

So if you have been clueless about the movie, here’s all all you can know about the same through this special chat session with its directors, John Musker And Ron Clements…

What is “Moana” about?

CLEMENTS: It’s an epic adventure that takes place about 2,000 years ago, and it’s about a teenage girl named Moana who lives on Motunui, an island in the Pacific that is in trouble. She learns that the guy responsible is a demigod named Maui, who stole the heart of Te Fiti many years ago, unleashing this imposing darkness.

MUSKER: Despite the fact that the people of Motunui no longer voyage beyond the safety of the reef, Moana realizes she has to become a great wayfinder, like her ancestors, in order to save her people. The ocean actually chooses Moana to team up with Maui on this daring mission to return the heart of Te Fiti. There are emotional issues and physical threats—a giant crab, coconut-clad pirates, a giant sea monster made of lava. It’s an action story with an action hero.

SHURER: This story has action, adventure, fun and drama. Moana wants to save the world—literally—even though she’s just about the only person who realizes it needs saving. She’s a powerful role model for today’s audiences. It’s a movie about listening to your inner voice. It’s a movie about realizing your true identity. All the characters in the film are exploring their identity—they’re trying to discover who they are.

Who is Moana?

CLEMENTS:  Moana is the 16-year-old daughter of the chief of Motunui. She’s brave, determined, compassionate and incredibly smart. She has a never-say-die attitude and a profound connection to the ocean.

MUSKER: So it’s troubling to her, to say the least, that her people don’t go beyond the reef surrounding their island. They stay within the confines of that reef, and Moana doesn’t really understand why, especially since she’s felt drawn to the ocean her whole life.

SHURER: There’s conflict within Moana. She’s drawn to explore. She has this inner voice that seems at odds with the requirements of her village—of what her family wants her to do. She realizes she’ll have to find a way to fulfill both her duty and her inner call. She is a strong hero who sets out to retrieve what her people lost a long time ago.

How did the wayfinding history of ancient Polynesia inspire you?

MUSKER: Navigation—wayfinding—is such a big part of Pacific culture. Ancient Polynesians found their way across the seas, wayfinding island-to-island without the use of modern instruments, using their knowledge of nature, the stars, the waves and the currents.

CLEMENTS: We heard many times from the people we met during our trips to the Pacific Islands that the ocean doesn’t separate the islands, it connects them. Voyaging is a real source of pride for Pacific Islanders, a part of their identity. They were, and continue to be, some of the greatest explorers of all time.

MUSKER: We heard about a thousand-year gap in voyaging in Oceania—which followed centuries of wayfinding. While there were many theories as to why this may have occurred, nobody knows exactly why. In our story, our heroine, Moana, is at the heart of the rebirth of wayfinding.It all relates to the theme of navigation, finding your way, finding your identity. The idea of a teenage girl who dreamed of becoming a navigator—considering the abilities of her ancestors—was so appealing. What better way to illustrate her becoming empowered and finding her identity than a story about wayfinding?

What did you learn on your research trips to the Pacific Islands?

CLEMENTS: We wanted to, as much as possible, avoid the ‘touristy’ things, to go deeper. We wanted to meet people who grew up on islands; we wanted to listen and learn what makes these Pacific Island cultures so remarkable. An elder on the island of Moorea, Papa Mape, asked of us something so simple and so revealing: ‘For years, we have been swallowed by your culture,’ he said. ‘This one time, can you be swallowed by ours?’”

SHURER: This team was transformed. The research trips opened our eyes. To create our fictional story set 2,000 years ago, we knew we needed to invite the experts we met during the trips to be a part of the creation of the film. It was one thing to be inspired by the research trips, but we wanted to go further. We wanted their voices to influence the film—from the story to the look of the environments to the characters. Everything—from how Moana’s canoe looks and functions to plants on the islands to the material used in their clothing—was all deeply influenced by our advisors.

MUSKER: We came away from these trips not only with ideas, images and inspirations for our story, but with an even stronger resolve that we wanted to make something that the people we met would embrace. We aren’t making a documentary, of course; it’s an animated feature and a work of fiction. But our experiences infused our imaginations in a way we hadn’t anticipated.

Who is Maui?

MUSKER:  We were fascinated by the stories we read, the tales told to us by people of the region about this charismatic character called Maui. In most islands, Maui is larger-than-life, a trickster and a shapeshifter. He could pull up whole islands from the sea with his fishhook; he had the power to slow down the sun. He is an incredible figure. But, in our story,Maui is responsible for the trouble that threatens Moana’s people. He’s paying a price for his actions and is somewhat of a lost hero—a shadow of his former self.

CLEMENTS: He has an all-encompassing drive to succeed that gets him into trouble. But facing the reason behind it isn’t easy.

SHURER: Maui was a great hero who, in our film, oversteps his role when he steals the heart of the Mother Island, the heart of Te Fiti. He disappears for a thousand years, until Moana tracks him down. She needs him to join her on this incredible journey—but he isn’t interested at first. He just wants her boat so he can retrieve his lost fishhook and return to his life as a demigod. But Moana recognizes that what Maui really wants is love and appreciation. Over the course of their incredible adventure together, they learn to love and respect each other.

Describe the look of the film.

CLEMENTS: What we endeavored to do with the ocean and island settings in this film really called for CG animation. The lighting and textures and dimension we can achieve in CG create an incredible, really immersive experience.

MUSKER: The islands, the skylines, the mountains, even the characters all have a sculptural quality to them that comes through really well in CG animation.The colors, already rich, are pushed a little. We want the look of this film to be so enveloping that you want to jump right in.

Why is music so important in “Moana”?

CLEMENTS: The time we spent in the Pacific Islands was so inspiring in terms of the role music plays. One morning—very early—we boarded a ferry to Savai’i just as the sun was beginning to rise. It was breathtaking. A Samoan chief who was acting as our guide spontaneously started singing this beautiful melody. It was extremely touching. And that sort of thing happened everywhere we went.

SHURER: We wanted to infuse the film with music that has a contemporary feel, but was really reminiscent of the Pacific Islands. We set out to find the right people to help tell our story in a way that would resonate with people everywhere—and we couldn’t be happier.

MUSKER: The music of Opetaia Foa’i and Te Vaka is deeply rooted in the cultures of the Pacific, but it’s new and fresh at the same time. We realized that some of his songs were about navigation and migration—so we knew Opetaia could bring so much to the film.Lin-Manuel Miranda is infectious. His enthusiasm is so strong; his work is so cool and he is a brilliant collaborator. He really brings the storytelling to the songs. Mark Mancina is the glue that holds it all together, bringing all of these worlds together. What can I say? We really got lucky with this group of people.